Last week, I spent my first night at the apartment since before he died.
A (very good) friend of mine coordinated with her husband, and her child, in order to be there with me.
I got to the apartment about an hour before she did, bearing a bag of groceries that my mother had gotten at the store for me, and I had the puppy in arm too (because she still can’t tackle going down stairs).
In comparison to the last night I spent at the apartment in August 2020, the apartment looks very different now. The layout is the same but the furniture is different; art prints that weren’t hung because we were moving so soon have now been levelled and put in their places on the walls. The books and furniture of his, and ours, that I said would be in our new place in Vancouver are now on display. The record player I thought we owned, but didn’t, has been given to me as a gift, and is sitting on our dresser.
My dresser, I suppose I should say.
I still sometimes think and speak in the plural — a customary, habitual, constant consideration and enfolding of him into my life that I have not lost.
The last night that I spent in the apartment with him was broken up by my migraine. I had been getting several a week. He got up and down in the night to refresh my ice packs and the window was open above my head, blowing in the summer air. I wrapped my arm around his upper thigh, rested my head against his chest. Likely, though I can’t remember, I said some version of you’re my favourite and he would have responded, you’re my favourite too which was often a call and response, one of our nighttime rituals.
Or maybe I just pressed my head into the ice pack and said, thank you for loving me when I’m in pain, as I did that too when the migraines were particularly bad.
He had to go to work in the morning and when his alarm went off, it woke only me. After ten minutes, he turned it to snooze, and three more times this would happen until I finally jabbed him lightly with my elbow and told him that he should really set his alarm for the time he actually meant to get up.
Then, he went to work and I went out to the place where he would die. He would follow after his work day and we would have our last night together in a borrowed bed, oblivious to the obvious.
Now, our bed has a different bedspread—dusky pink velvet, which he hated the feeling of (he said velvet made his hands feel “creepy-crawly”—and different sheets (white); it faces a different way too, the window to my left.
I opened the fridge, which has been entirely empty for 10 months, and set the bag of food inside.
The kitchen looks the same; there wasn’t really any way to change it fundamentally. I looked at the dishwasher, but didn’t empty it. I set the dog in her pen and she looked up at me, grumbling slightly.
I sat in my writing chair and looked out the window. The neighbour honked her car horn, the same as his was, twice, as she unloaded her kids from whatever activity they had come from.
I watched 30 minutes of the movie Palm Springs on my laptop, unable to focus on anything else. I can’t seem to bear sitting on my (new) couch and watching television on the TV we always watched, so I watch in my writing chair, on my laptop.
Palm Springs was the first rom-com I’ve watched since he died, choosing instead to watch action movies that I’ve seen before, devoid of romantic arcs and predictable.
In the first ten minutes of the movie, Andy Samberg who plays one of the leads, looks across the room at his girlfriend and asks her to kill him. She responds by saying he better not bring his drama to the day, which is a wedding day, though not theirs.
Something about the way Samberg splayed on the bed, toneless, asking for death, turned a key inside my chest.
I am not spoiling anything as this is revealed not ten minutes later in the movie when I say that Samberg—Nyles, by his character’s name—has been caught in a time loop. He wakes up every morning in the same day, the same wedding day.
“Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same,” he says when asked if he’s having a good day.
Consequently, he doesn’t care about anything. He wears a Bermuda shirt and shorts to the wedding; he gives an elevated and strange speech that is so decontextualized it’s clear he’s speaking with knowledge that the viewer and the other wedding guests don’t have (“here you are,” he says, “standing on the precipice of something so much bigger than anyone here”); he dances weird and awkwardly; he makes aggressive eye contact; he takes the bride’s sister out into the desert and as he’s pawing her body, an arrow hits him in the arm.
It’s intended to be weird and jarring, this arrow coming from no where, Nyles scream of surprise and pain. A warrior of some kind strings another arrow to his bow and fires it at Nyles. The bride’s sister is screaming. Then, Nyles is crawling towards a glowing, apocalyptic cave, visibly in pain. When the bride’s sister—named Sarah—follows him into the cave, Sarah ends up in the time loop as well.
New to the loop, Sarah is determined to get out of it. She bundles Nyles into her car in an attempt to drive out of it. Nyles tells Sarah he doesn’t know what ‘it’ is. He posits that it could be life, it could be death, it could be a dream, it could be purgatory, or a glitch in the simulation. Ultimately though, he tells Sarah he’s just stopped trying to make sense of things entirely. He tells her to embrace the fact that “nothing matters.”
When Sarah asks him “Why live?” he tells her that they kind of “have no choice but to live” because they literally can’t die; if they do, the loop just starts over.
Sitting in my green armchair, watching this, I thought: this is a movie about grief.
The not-giving-a-shit, the always-standing-out where ever you go, the speaking from an experience no one else shares, the resignation to but deeply embedded fear of pain, the way in which time ceases to matter or exist, everything just blurring into a sameness, even the way in which threat and agony lurks, unknown and unpredictable, in the landscape of grief, tearing through your body in moments you don’t expect, that’s grief.
I wanted to see more but instead, I pressed Pause. My phone had vibrated letting me know that my friend had arrived. She had pulled up in front of the apartment in her red Honda Fit.
I welcomed her at the door, ushered her into the apartment.
She sat on the couch and I sat in my writing chair, an arrangement that so often he and I fell into and we talked. I focused on logistics as way to avoid emotional realities, as a way of trying to fix problems instead of feel them. She encouraged me, though not in so many words, to think more somatically, to consider how the decisions I was avoiding making felt in my body.
It was good advice.
She asked what the ground rules for the evening were, what kind of Garden State signal we should have in case the evening became too much for me.
After awhile, we made dinner in the kitchen. It was a simple meal. Then, we both sat on the couch and watched Lovesick on Netflix (formerly, and in my opinion, better known, as Scrotal Recall).
The show is British, largely centering around a guy in his early twenties who has to tell his previous partners that he’s contracted chlamydia. It’s also, really, about realizing in increments that you’re in love with your best friend and being unable to say it because of fear, or willful oblivion, or bad timing, or love. The latter is the kind of love that holds its tongue because the other person is happy with someone else. You get it.
In all, it’s a warm, and sweet, and funny show. My friend and I laughed and several times paused to chatter, scenes in the show bringing up memories or anecdotes that we shared, trading them back and forth like collector’s cards.
The green LED numbers on the stove, visible from the couch, always visible from the couch, slipped closer towards late evening, though the light outside stayed steady.
At 10 p.m., the puppy was restless and so we kitted her out in her harness that is too big for her and clipped her lead to it and then we went for a ramble. Both of us felt sleepy, not entirely up to the walk, but after about ten minutes in the mild, summer air, we marvelled at how good, how nice, how gentle it was to be outside. We went a longer loop than we had thought, savouring the green, flexible grass beneath our sandals, the brightness of the sky.
When we returned to the apartment, I converted the couch into a bed, handing my friend, blankets, and pillows, asking her repeatedly to tell me if she was uncomfortable. She assured me she wasn’t.
We brushed our teeth. We changed into our sleep clothes. I closed the blinds, pulled the curtains. I asked her, for the tenth time, if she was okay on the couch. She assured me that she was and then I walked down the hallway and closed the door behind me as I entered the bedroom, our bedroom.
I set MoMa in the crate beside the bed. She’d never slept in the crate in the apartment before, so I’d brought some of her scent toys from her other crate. I plugged my phone in and pulled the blankets back. It was stuffy and hot in the bedroom but I didn’t open the window. When I turned off the light, the dark made the yellow-orange lights of our wake-up clock light apparent.
I turned away from it, stuck my fingers through the metal slats of the crate to sooth MoMa who was snuffling, unsure of the place that we were in.
I thought about the way the arrow had struck Nyles in the movie. It hadjust come out of nowhere, out of the dark.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t expected this night, this first night, to be painful, I did, but I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was.
Neither MoMa or I slept. I watched the hours slip by on the clock that hasn’t been set in almost a year, the clock that he bought for me as a surprise gift one Christmas, the clock that I swore I didn’t like, but then ended up liking so much I convinced several other people close to me to buy one for themselves. When he was here, he could be turned, fully facing the bright waking light of the clock, and still be entirely asleep. I couldn’t fathom how. I still can’t.
My mouth was dry, all night. My nose plugged up. My eyes almost glued shut from crying. My arm fell asleep because I left it outstretched, my hand through the crate, there for MoMa whenever she needed to sniff at it with her wet, soft nose.
I’m still here, I imagined my hand assured her. You are not alone.
A reel of memories played through my mind all night, the ticker-tape of a gentle, inward-breaking panic attack.
When I heard my friend use the washroom at about 7:30 in the morning, I swung my body out of bed and opened the puppy’s crate door. She played at my feet for a moment and I realized that I had lost my left foot’s baby toenail. It hadn’t been loose or injured in anyway, but now it was separate from my body. I picked the nail up from the carpet and looked at its small brokenness, a pale curved shell.
I offered my friend tea (and crackers, because she is in her second trimester and has nausea in the morning). While she folded up the blankets on the couch, I brewed a Japanese green tea, the kind that he used to make me, and I had a moment where I couldn’t find where he kept our glass kettle.
The tea was sent to me by a friend from the Internet because her husband is Japanese and his father knew where the good, Japanese tea was sold in our city. It was the exact kind that my sweet man used to buy. I didn’t know where he got the tea so to receive it as a gift in his absence — it was particularly special.
My friend and I sat on the couch and sipped at the pale, jade liquid. I felt sandbagged with tiredness, rocks in my eyes. I told my friend that I knew I likely needed to move — that trying to return to the place in which we had lived was too painful.
“But,” I shrugged. “Money, budgets. You know how it is… responsibility.”
The thing is my rent is beyond reasonable and I’m unsure what my work situation will be. Also, the apartment is beautiful. For so long, it was my home, and our home, a sanctuary.
I know the pragmatic thing is to wait, to see what the New Year brings, to decide then about my living situation. And that is what I’m doing, but in that first light, after that first night, everything seemed so hollow and meaningless, so incredibly difficult without him.
My friend asked me if the apartment felt like it echoed to me. The burn of tears crackled in the lining of my nose. No one had ever asked me this before and I told her that yes, that was exactly how it felt.
The length of the hallway felt like the stretch of a canyon to me — elongated interminably with the presence of his absence.
“Maybe,” I said, “with more time here, that will change,” though I didn’t sound convinced, even to myself.
After my friend left—headed for a morning ultrasound that would tell her the sex of her second baby—I drove to my parents’ place, relieved to have somewhere to go.
I lay on the couch, glad that I had cleared the whole day of anything, and MoMa settled in her pen. I opened my laptop and watched the rest of Palm Springs. Exhaustion pressed down on me. I texted my friend and thanked her for being with me. I tried to explain my gratitude in words not up to the task. I checked the weather.
Around early evening, my sister and brother-in-law came in through the front door; they had come for a dinner we were all having together. My sister startled when she walked past, screaming slightly when she saw me on the couch.
“I didn’t see you there!” she said. “You’re so quiet.”
My sweet man used to say the same thing about me; sometimes he’d be in the apartment for hours (and the apartment isn’t huge) before he’d realize I was home.
“What do you mean you didn’t see her?” my brother-in-law said waving at me. “She’s always there.”